March 19, 2007 1:14 PM PDT

Sun hires Debian Linux founder

Sun Microsystems has hired Ian Murdock, who founded the Debian version of Linux and who has held various posts involving the open-source operating system.

At Sun, Murdock now holds the title of chief operating platforms officer. On his blog, he said he'll work both with Linux and Sun's competing, newly open-source Solaris.

"I'm not saying much about what I'll be doing yet, but you can probably guess from my background and earlier writings that I'll be advocating that Solaris needs to close the usability gap with Linux to be competitive," he said on his blog. But it won't be just about Solaris at Sun: "Even with Solaris front and center, I'm pretty strongly of the opinion that Linux needs to play a clearer role in the platform strategy."

Murdock's most recent job was chief technology officer of the Linux Foundation and chairman of that group's Linux Standard Base effort; Murdock will continue with the latter role.

Sun has had a mixed approach toward Linux. Initially disparaging, Chairman and then-Chief Executive Scott McNealy donned a penguin mascot outfit in an about-face to show support. But the company afterward resurrected a nearly exterminated version of Solaris for x86 servers, where Linux is most popular, and McNealy predicted in 2005 that Solaris and Windows would be the "two clear survivors" in the operating system market.

Under current Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz, the company takes an in-between approach. It supports both operating systems, touting the fact that Linux runs on its UltraSparc T1 "Niagara"-based servers, but boasts of Solaris' legal protections and technology. The head of Solaris marketing, Tom Goguen, in February announced his plans to leave Sun.

Murdock was involved in Linux long before that, though. He founded one of the earlier versions of Linux, Debian. He tried to commercialize Debian with a start-up called Progeny that never gained much traction; in 2005 he helped found the DCC Alliance, an attempt to provide common software underpinnings for various Debian-based versions. However, arguably the most successful Debian derivative, Canonical's Ubuntu, isn't a member, and one DCCA partner, Linspire, has moved its foundation to Ubuntu.

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Sun has to get into this
Sun has long been in a very interesting position. On one hand, out of the major hardware vendors, you could argue that on the whole, Sun has made available, written, and/or sponsored more free and open software than anyone else. Examples: they have been involved in the GNOME usability work from the beginning, they bought Star Office, then turned it into Open Source Software, they had a long history of sharing their networking technology with others and they have made Java available for free downloads for many years.

On the other hand, they have held onto the "cash cow" for as long as they could, arguably much too long. They also stuck too dogmatically to the "Solaris is the only real good solution out there" theme, even though it is obvious that is not the case.

Mind you, Solaris really is good, perhaps great software, and to its credit, Sun has turned almost all of it into OpenSolaris and taken out the pieces they could not share because of external licensing restrictions.

So Sun has been an open player in many ways.

Now, however, is the time to champion Linux side by side with Solaris and do the dance that Sun can do both exceedingly well. I hope they give Ian Murdock a chance to help that happen.

Ian is a great thinker, but he, too, can be really idealistic at times. His Debian idea has been a great success, but many of his other ventures have not, as the article shows. So Ian is human, and thank God for that! I would like to see both Ian and Sun get realistic about how both Solaris and Linux can play in both the server and desktop communities. With some good thinking, more inroads can be made. Ian is certainly an innovative thinker, and Sun has other innovative thinkers as well. Mix some innovation with practicality and Sun can rebound here really strongly. Hope it happens. Ian deserves a win about now, and so does Sun!
Posted by masinick (15 comments )
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Being new to Linux and very disgruntled with MS I have one suggestion to all Linux corporations.
Until Linux software is simple enough to install and be use (as MS is) by the masses and hardware manufactures supply drivers for their products that work with all OS, you (Linux companies) will always be #2 and not even close to the #1 position and that's sad.
Posted by blarosee (1 comment )
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